The World Series of Poker Main Event not only showcases some of the best poker players around, but over its history has also often been the context for some of the most memorable hands of no-limit Texas hold'em ever played. Many of these hands have occurred at WSOP Main Event final tables, with the outcomes often resulting in the winning or losing of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
While any list compiling the most memorable hands in WSOP Main Event history will necessarily be subjective, here are seven hands that all poker players and fans would have to agree made their mark on WSOP history, becoming the most talked about hands in the lengthy history of poker's most prestigious tournament.
1. Ten-Deuce Delivers for Brunson, Again (1977)
Famed player Doyle "Tex Dolly" Brunson won his first WSOP Main Event bracelet in 1976 after topping a small but tough field of 22 entrants. Brunson outlasted Jesse Alto heads-up to win the title, with the final hand seeing Brunson call a preflop raise from Alto holding 10s-2s, then raise all in over an Alto bet once the flop came Ah-Js-10h. Alto called and showed As-Jd for two pair, way better than Brunson's pair of deuces. But the turn then brought the 2c and river the 10d, and Brunson had made an improbable runner-runner full house to win the hand and the winner-take-all $220,000 first prize.
A year later Brunson found himself among a field of 34 in the Main Event, once more making it to heads-up play, this time versus Gary "Bones" Berland. Amazingly, the final hand went similarly to a year before with Brunson again holding 10s-2h and Berland 8h-5c. Once again the flop gave Brunson one pair and his opponent two, coming 10d-8s-5h. Both checked, however, then when the 2c fell on the river all of the chips went in the middle with Brunson holding a better two pair. The river brought the 10c -- making Brunson a full house again -- winning him $340,000 and forever cementing the legend of Brunson and the hand that would be named after him, ten-deuce.
2. Amateur Fowler Cracks Pro Hoff's Aces (1979)
Another memorable hand concluded the 1979 WSOP Main Event, the first one ever won by an amateur player when Hal Fowler bested a field of 54 including professional Bobby Hoff heads-up to win a $270,000 first prize. After a lengthy battle between the two in which Fowler came back repeatedly and then assumed a big 4-to-1 chip lead, the last hand saw Hoff raising before the flop with the best hand in hold'em -- Ac-Ah -- and Fowler calling with the measly 7s-6d.
The flop came 5h-3c-Js, Hoff bet, and Fowler called. The turn then brought the 4s. Fowler had made a seven-high straight, but he checked and let Hoff bet all in. Fowler called, of course, and the dealer put out the 10d on the river as Hoff turned over his aces only to see Hoff's hand to learn he was already beaten. The hand became famous, with the lowly 7-6-offsuit beating pocket aces in a way resembling the amateur surprisingly beating the professional.
3. Chan Calls Down Seidel (1988)
The last hand of the 1988 WSOP between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel was already a memorable one before it was featured a decade later in the 1998 film Rounders. In the hand Chan held a lead over Seidel when the pair saw a flop come Qc-10h-8d. Seidel checked, Chan bet, Seidel check-raised, then Chan called. Both then checked the 2s turn.
The river brought the 6d. Seidel had Qc-7h and decided to push all in with his pair of queens. But alas for him, Chan had Jc-9c -- he had flopped the nut straight -- and instantly called, thereby becoming WSOP Main Event champion for the second year in a row. Chan had topped a field of 167 to win, earning $700,000 for the triumph.
4. River Ten Saves Matloubi (1990)
In 1990 there were 194 entrants in the WSOP Main Event, with Monsour Matloubi and Hans Lund the final two. The pair played heads-up for several hours, with the most dramatic -- and most memorable -- hand starting with Matloubi raising with 10c-10d and Lund calling with Ac-9d. The flop came 9s-2c-4d, giving Lund a pair of nines. Lund checked, Matloubi bet, and Lund check-raised. Matloubi then decided to push all in, and Lund, having Matloubi covered, called.
Matloubi had the advantage at that moment, but the turn brought the As to give Lund two pair and a huge advantage with one card to come. It looked for all the world like Lund would be winning the Main Event, but the river brought the 10s to give Matloubi a set and the pot. They'd play on for hours more before Matloubi eventually won the title and $895,000 first prize.
5. Ungar Makes a Wheel, Wins Third Title (1997)
When Chan won the Main Event in 1988 he became the fourth (and last) player to win back-to-back WSOP championships, following Johnny Moss (1970-71), Brunson (1976-77), and Stu Ungar (1980-81). Moss would win a third WSOP title in 1974, and Ungar became the only other player to equal that feat when he came back to win in 1997 by defeating a field of 312 players to win $1 million.
The last hand between Ungar and runner-up John Strzemp saw Ungar raising from the button with Ah-4c and Strzemp calling with As-8c. The flop came As-5d-3h, giving both players a pair of aces but Strzemp had the better kicker. Strzemp led with a bet, then after thinking a while Ungar pushed all in and Strzemp called right away. The turn was the 3d and Strzemp still led, but the river was the 2s, giving Ungar a five-high straight or "wheel" and the title.
6. You Call, Gonna Be All Over, Baby (1998)
The following year's Main Event also provided a memorable final hand between Scotty Nguyen and Kevin McBride, the last two players standing from the 350 who entered. They began heads-up play with McBride in the lead, but Nguyen eventually grabbed the advantage by the time a hand arose in which Nguyen was dealt Jd-9c and McBride Qh-10h.
McBride raised and Nguyen called, then Nguyen check-called a bet after the flop came 8c-9d-9h. Nguyen check-called again after the 8h came on the turn to give Nguyen a full house. The river then brought the 8s, putting a full house on the board -- eights full of nines -- but Nguyen had a better one with nines full of eights. That's when Nguyen bet enough to put McBride all in, then famously said "You call, gonna be all over baby."
McBride did call, saying "I play the board" as he did. And just as Nguyen said, it was all over, with Nguyen winning the $1 million first prize and the bracelet.
7. Moneymaker's Big Bluff (2003)
Finally, no list of the most memorable hands in WSOP history would be complete without Chris Moneymaker's famous bluff versus Sam Farha when heads-up for the 2003 title. A total of 839 played that year, with first prize worth $2.5 million. The amateur Moneymaker had almost a 2-to-1 chip lead to start heads-up play, but the pro Farha had narrowed the gap when the following hand arose.
Moneymaker raised from the button with Ks-7h, Farha called with Qs-9h, then both checked the 9s-2d-6s flop. The turn brought the 8s, a bet by Farha, a raise by Moneymaker, and a Farha call. The river was the 3h, meaning Farha's pair of nines was best and Moneymaker had missed his flush and straight draws to sit with nothing but king-high.
This time Farha checked, and Moneymaker pushed all in as a bluff. Farha thought a while -- correctly noting that he thought his opponent had missed his flush draw -- then folded. Moneymaker had his big chip lead again, and before long would win the last of Farha's chips to earn his historic win.
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